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LRF: Protected species must give way for forestry

The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) believe that the Species Protection Ordinance continues to cause problems for Sweden’s forest owners and that forest owners are prohibited from using their own forest. Now they say that a comprehensive solution is needed. This despite the fact that formal protection of forests mainly take place on the voluntary basis of forest owners. LRF calls on the government to act urgently.

The red-listed orchid Epipogium aphyllum Boris Gaberšček, CC BY 2.5 SI via Wikimedia Commons

Link to LRF: This is how the species protection rules need to change

Obviously, The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) already has the attention of Sweden’s elected officials. In the Environment and Agriculture Committee’s report 2021/22:MJU24, the committee basically proposes the same points that the Parliament supports. LRF comes up with five points that together will create the overall solution that it wants to achieve.

1. Clarify that national protected species should not affect ongoing land use.

According to LRF, national protection of species “is largely aimed at avoiding the picking of certain flowers. Many of these species, e.g. several orchids are quite common.”

That LRF makes this gross simplification does not bode well for our biological diversity. They skip all frogs, bats, all reptiles, predators etc and the little hazel mouse. These can hardly be seen as common species and in total, approx. 585 species are protected in Sweden. (The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, protected species) Many more are threatened, especially in forest biotopes.

LRF’s understatement of the purpose of the national protection of species is set against the societal cost of stopping forestry. Should we perceive this trivialization as if LRF is trying to remove protection for a larger number of species?

2. The burden of proof is the state’s responsibility when state decisions say that on-going land-use is hindered.

LRF believes that species protection means that the authorities require that “forest owners must carry out extensive inventories to prove the right to use their own land. This despite the fact that the current land-use is constitutionally protected.”

Knowing what you own and how it should be handled should be a starting point, right? However, it is not only property rights that are found in the Swedish constitution. The rights of current and future generations to have a good environment are also there. Forest owners have lived with the protection of species since the beginning of the 20 th century and, despite this, have, according to themselves, created a forest with biological diversity. So what does the problem consist of now? Did forest owners live closer to their forest in the past and in that way gained competence around biodiversity? If that is the case, then increased knowledge should be welcomed by current forest owners. Or is it simply that all obstacles and consideration should be swept away?

3. Formal protection should be offered to the forest owner.

LRF states that “those who today are prevented from using their forest are directed to sue the state in court in order to receive the compensation they are entitled to. The system risks leading to numerous court cases and the cost is never weighed against the profit when forestry is prevented.”

It goes without saying that the issue of compensation needs to be discussed to a greater extent. At the same time, one can ask how far compensation claims should go. The state is also wavering in matters of property rights, not in the least when it comes to the Mineral Act and the compensation it provides.

But that the cost should be weighed against “the profit when forestry is prevented” is a one-eyed and reversed view. The purpose of protecting forests and biological diversity is hardly to prevent, but rather to protect and preserve the ecosystems on which we all depend. That there are big profits in that and it is agreed on globally, as COP 15 in Montreal showed.

4. Introduce flexible forms of protection.

Here, LRF believes that today’s forms of protection are not adapted to species protection and that protection “must, as far as possible, be combined with land use and be time-limited because species can move independently of land use, to the greatest economic benefit to society”

It sounds nice to refer to the greatest socio-economic benefit, but what time horizon has LRF counted on? Can we already know now what social benefit forests will have in a few decades? Researchers have stated that 30% of the land area in ecologically representative nature types needs to be permanently protected in order to save ecosystems and biological diversity. This is also what the agreement in Montreal states. The societal benefit of functioning ecosystems cannot be valued either on the basis of climate or ecosystem services. Even LRF should be able to see that social benefit depends on which perspective is established and by whom. Social benefit exists when it involves “for the great majority” in a society. We note that social benefit is a broader concept than forest raw material and its profits for individuals.

It is also possible to wonder which species LRF believe move independently of land use and to which place? Forests that have reached the age of 100 years and beyond are hardly easily found by species or move to. Nor do orchids wander around looking for living space. It is rather the case that if species get the protected living space they need, they stay and become viable there. Hopefully they can spread from there and perhaps leave the red list.

5. Limit lawsuits against individuals without cost.

LRF believes that today “small environmental associations can appeal planned logging without any responsibility for costs, with reference to the Aarhus Convention. Forest owners are forced to defend their right to use the forest at their own expense. For an environmental association that appeals forestry there are no risks, they can transfer the costs of court proceedings to the state and the forest owner without taking responsibility.”

It is symptomatic that LRF constantly sees reality with one eye. The Aarhus Convention has a clear connection to our constitution, i.e. the right of current and future generations to a good environment.

“The Convention aims to help protect the right of everyone in present and future generations to live in an environment compatible with his or her health and well-being.”

(quote from “Protection of Species – our shared responsibility SOU 2021:51).

In the same SOU, a background to the convention can be read; “Although the Aarhus Convention is an independent instrument, the convention’s provisions on access to judicial review are based on established principles and understandings in international law”

The convention creates a link to human rights.

The question that arises, when reading the LRF’s reasoning, is how do they imagine a good environment and rights as such, if organizations do not have the opportunity to get information and have issues tried in court?

The Swedish Parliament’s Environment and Agriculture Committee followed suit

In the Environment and Agriculture Committee’s report 2021/22:MJU24, the committee takes its right of initiative and proposes to the Parliament that

• clarify that nationally protected species should not be able to significantly stop ongoing land use

• clarify that the forest owner must be offered formal protection or a nature conservation agreement in the event of various forms of ban on land use

• clearly regulate that the state has responsibility for investigating the existence of species.

Sweden reports 89 habitat types and 166 species and species groups that are listed in EU’s Habitats Directive. Based on LRF’s starting point, in the worst case, around 400 species that are currently nationally protected may lose their protection. So that they do not significantly hinder ongoing land use.

In the evaluation made in 2019 of Sweden’s nature and species in the Habitat Directive, it can be seen that only about 40 percent of the species and 20 percent of the habitat types have a favorable conservation status. The red list includes a total of 4,746 species in 2020. Of these, approximately 40% of all red-listed species are linked to the forest in various ways. Forestry is one of the biggest factors affecting our species.

Summary: LRF continues to remove obstacles for the forest industry

LRF continues to push issues that remove obstacles for the forest industry- without regard to functioning ecosystems and the species that maintain them. It is strange from the perspective that LRF is an organization that represents people who are in need of functioning ecosystems. On the other hand, it is perhaps graspable if the perspective is only profit in the short perspective. And it is clear, if oil is to be completely replaced by forests, then it will be necessary to cut down. It is also important to hurry before other solutions come on the market.

Sweden’s constitution certainly includes protection of property rights. It also includes that general public must promote sustainable development and a good environment for current and future generations. Based on a rights reasoning, one’s right cannot override the rights of others. In this case, a good environment for current and future generations.

Based on this, it is difficult to understand how Swedish politicians so readily pick up proposals from forest industry representatives. Follow-up after follow-up of the state of the Swedish environment, shows that it is now shining red on this front. It has been emphasized enough and the agreement in Montreal should result in serious work. A first step in the right direction is not to undermine species protection more than has already been done.

Translated to English by Kristina Bäck